When it comes to family TV time, we usually limit our selections to Nick Jr (Noggin), Disney Junior, Netflix or DVDs. My thinking was that if I’m going to let my kids watch TV, I’d prefer to limit them to TV free of commercials while they were very young.
I never expected them to shun all marketing and I knew that the licensed characters they saw on TV shows would still lead them to want toys with those characters on it. But if it limited their consumerism even a little, I figured it was worth it.
But then we discovered My Little Pony on the Hub network. And now I’m doomed.
Hub has at least two commercial breaks during every show. We try to Tivo episodes and then watch them with the girls, fast forwarding through commercial breaks. Then there are those times when I let the girls watch TV so I can get something else done, and I’m not always there to hit that fast forward button. Meaning they get to see every “Act now for this incredible offer!” promotion.
So, what do my two impressionable young daughters think of commercials?
Mira now chants, “Take me to Party City!” thanks to their Halloween commercial. Children in the commercial repeat that same statement over and over, and she’s now convinced that she needs to go there for her Halloween costume.
Cordy told me she’d make fewer messes with her snacks if I’d buy her a gyro bowl. Never mind the fact that she never makes a mess when eating a snack.
Mira is begging me for an insulated lunch bag that will keep her lunch cold for up to 8 hours. When I remind her that none of her lunch needs to be kept cold, she gets upset and points out that, “Dat mom bwogger on TV wecommended it!” I guess in her mind, all mom bloggers must stick together and use the same products.
Mira also insists that the chocolate milk shown in one commercial would be “healthy” for her. I tried to explain that just because they say it’s “healthier” because it’s a good source of vitamin D and calcium and is free of high fructose corn syrup doesn’t change the fact that it’s still filled with sugar. And that all milk has calcium and vitamin D.
Mira even asked if we could please buy one of those aluminum storage building. You know, because we need a carport or hobby building next to our garage or something. And they’re sooooo shiny.
I won’t even begin to discuss all of the pillow pets, make-your-own stuffed animals, play-doh ice cream factory and other toys they now insist they can’t live without.
Marketing works, folks.
After recovering from the horror of watching my kids mindlessly ask for junk they don’t need just because the TV told them they wanted it, I decided that this was a prime chance to teach them about persuasion and marketing.
I still fast forward through most commercials, but occasionally we watch them together and discuss what the people who made the ad were trying to do. Did they want us to do something or buy something? Why do they say we need it? Do we really need it? Do we already have a similar item that works well for us?
It’s also started a discussion about money, both how we get money and what we do with it. Cordy and Mira still have trouble understanding that we have a finite amount of money to spend, and there are some things we have to spend our money on first (bills) before we can then consider items that aren’t as necessary. Progress is slow in this area, but I think if we keep talking about it with them it’ll sink in.
I won’t rant about the “evils” of marketing. I know that businesses need to sell their products, and it’s up to their marketing departments to find a way to make the product appealing so that people will want to part with their money. Hell, I have an entire review blog devoted to trying out products of interest, using my real-life experience with an item to help provide an honest testimonial for the product. I sell ad space on my blog. I get it.
But just because I believe there is a place in the world for marketing doesn’t mean I plan to let my children be blind followers of consumerism. If they’re going to see commercials (and as they get older they’ll be exposed to more and more everywhere they go), I want them to think about more than what’s being presented on the surface and consider the truth behind what’s being said. Is that chocolate milk really healthier? Healthier than what? It certainly can’t be as healthy as plain white milk, right?
I think this will be a lesson that continues for some time. I’m glad they didn’t see as much advertising when they were younger, but now is a good time to start explaining how it works. They’re as receptive to the message we’re giving them as they are to the commercials – here’s hoping we can be a little more persuasive than the marketing professionals at least most of the time.
(I can’t say all the time, because let’s face it – marketing works on me, too!)
Full disclosure: Just in case it needs to be said, I do not endorse any of the products listed above, and specifically will NOT be taking Mira to Party City for her costume, but instead plan to visit a locally owned costume shop.